Dave Sollazzo has only been on the field for one Naugatuck-Woodland football game, but even he’s disappointed that the Greyhounds and Hawks won’t get together on the gridiron this fall — and he knows his players are even more bummed.
“They’ve been around a heck of a lot longer than I have — and so have our alumni and fans — and I know they’re disappointed,” Sollazzo said. “They certainly love that rivalry and it’s a great rivalry. I got a good taste of it last year. I wish they were on the schedule because they’re a very good football team.”
Both teams entered the midseason bye week with matching 5-0 records, but two of the Naugatuck Valley League’s top three teams won’t play each other for the first time since Woodland joined the league in 2003.
The rivalry is arguably the NVL’s most passionate among players, coaches, students and fan bases. It began with the legendary Halloween game in 2003 and took another step up with addition of the George Pinho Trophy in 2013. Woodland leads the all-time series, 11-4, but Naugy has a 3-2 edge in games played since the introduction of the Pinho Trophy.
The rivalry was put on the shelf this year because of the league’s realignment and scheduling rules. Woodland and Naugatuck had played in the same division since 2007 — the Copper from 2007-13 and the Iron from 2014-17. Over the summer, the Hawks swapped divisions with St. Paul, landing them back in the Copper. Due to the NVL’s power-based scheduling rules (which work on two-year cycles), Woodland and Naugy aren’t scheduled to play this fall.
’Hounds rolling: Since their relatively tight victory in Wolcott to open the season, nobody has come even close to the Greyhounds.
Naugy has outscored its five opponents, 219-19, including a 49-7 pasting of Oxford on Oct. 5 before the midseason bye week. Sollazzo acknowledged improvement in all three phases of the game as keys to success so far. He also noted the play of junior quarterback Jay Mezzo and senior linebacker Mike Natkiel.
“I think Jay Mezzo is doing a good job,” Sollazzo said. “He’s gaining confidence and experience. The running back crew is doing a good job working with the offensive line, and the offensive line has stepped it up. As a defense, we’re running to the ball and playing hard. Most importantly, we’re playing physically. (Natkiel) is a tremendous leader and he’s all over the field. He plays from sideline to sideline just like a good linebacker should, and he’s doing a really good job for us. I love having him there every second of the day.”
Naugatuck was ranked ninth in the Week 5 state media poll.
“I tell them, ‘The only ranking that counts is the ranking at the end of the season,’” Sollazzo said. “We’re happy that we’re even being looked at by the rankings because our hard work is paying off. But the most important thing is that you handle success with maturity.”
During the midseason bye week, Sollazzo said he wanted to focus on physical maintenance by spending plenty of time in the weight room.
“Obviously it’s a fine line, any bye week,” Sollazzo said. “You have to be careful. You don’t want the players to get too complacent, but you want them to recharge their batteries. When you’re in the grind of the season, you get cheated from being in the weight room. We spent more time in there and less time on the field.”
Naugy will be back in action Friday at Municipal Stadium against Kennedy. The ‘Hounds will host Torrington on Oct. 26.
Hawks rallying: Woodland is also perfect coming out of the bye, but it took a little more work for the Hawks to get there.
A week after needing a second-half outburst to pull away from Wolcott, Woodland needed a much more dramatic comeback Oct. 5 against St. Paul. Facing a 22-7 halftime deficit, the Hawks scored 16 unanswered points after the break, including a game-winning, 27-yard field goal by Angelo Kollcinaku with 3:01 remaining to earn a 23-22 victory.
Edit Krivca continued his tremendous play with 23 carries for 259 yards and touchdown runs of 70 and 5 yards. Quarterback Tyler Bulinski also scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter to make it a one-score game.
Woodland will visit Sacred Heart-Kaynor Tech on Thursday at Municipal Stadium before hitting the road against Oct. 26 against Crosby. The Hawks will be heavily favored to win both games and enter the Nov. 2 home matchup with Ansonia undefeated.